Sailing center seeks to expand interest in sport

Sailing center seeks to expand interest in sport

Dave Boitano
Alameda Community Sailing Center

Volunteers with the Alameda Community Sailing Center help families sail boats off Alameda. The center which is offering a summer camp this year, is located at the Encinal boat ramp behind Encinal High School. Photo by Dave Boitano.

Sailing on San Francisco Bay isn’t just for the 1 percent anymore.

That’s the attitude of a dedicated group of sailors who run the nonprofit Alameda Community Sailing Center.

On a sunny Sunday afternoon last week, center volunteers were busy launching sailboats from a beach behind Encinal High School.Children and their parents donned life jackets and cast off for a trip around a sheltered stretch of bay formerly used by the Navy to turn big ships.

“A lot of people think that sailing is just for blue blazers and people who belong to yacht clubs and that’s not true,” said Michelle Leonard, a volunteer. “We want to change that way of thinking. Everybody should have access to sailing. It’s a fun sport and it’s inexpensive.”

Leonard and a core of other volunteers staff the program, which has been in existence for three years. They raise funds and perform a variety of other tasks though sailing lessons are given by paid certified instructors.

The program now focuses on kids, but the center hopes to begin programs for adults in the fall. A youth summer sailing camp sponsored by the center will begin in June and run through August.

Three age appropriate camps will be available for beginning juniors aged 7 to 12 years old, intermediate junior between 8 and 13 years old and a teen camp for 13 to 18 year olds. Signups are being accepted now, though at least one section is already sold out.

Young sailors learn in two models of boats, an eight foot single sail craft and a double sail 14-foot vessel which can hold three people. It doesn’t take that long to get the hang of it, Leonard said, as long as you master one fundamental skill: How to right the boat if it capsizes.

“The first thing we do is some classroom instruction and then we show them (children) how to get wet and learn how to get back into it and be safe,” she said. “Anybody can learn to sail. Getting back to the beach is the tough part.”

The center has around 20 boats available and students stay within the protected breakwater when they first take the helm.

Often by the second week, the kids can venture out into a portion of the bay accompanied by “chase boats” designed to keep all the sail boats together and avoid accidents.

Youths from the Boys and Girls Club of Alameda and Girls Inc. have been invited to take part in the camps this year, and scholarships are available for families who cannot afford the $600 fee for a two-week session.

Sailing is not as expensive as one might think, Leonard said. A small, used eight-foot boat can be bought for as little as $500, with a larger, used 14-footer going for around $1,000.

Along with enjoying a sunny day on the bay, students who attend the camps will learn the science, technology, engineering and math skills from turning into the wind, moving across the water at a given speed, and the ecology of the area.

“It teaches so many of those things and it’s a fun way to learn it,” she said.

The program’s aim is to open up access to San Francisco Bay. Eventually, the volunteers hope to offer kayak and paddleboard lessons.

They also hope to move their activities to the former Alameda Naval Air Station's Seaplane Lagoon, where the city wants to offer water sports and shops to attract the public to Alameda Point.

Sharing boats rather than owning them outright is a concept first applied here in 1979, said Rich Jepsen, an experienced sailing instructor who coordinates the program. In fact, San Francisco's prestigious St. Francis Yacht Club doesn’t require boat ownership to join, he said.

“Yacht clubs are having to redefine themselves,” Jepsen said. “For the first time in history (the yacht club) bought a bunch of boats that it rents out to members.”

For more on the program and the summer camps, visit or e-mail


Submitted by Lu Abel (not verified) on Mon, Apr 27, 2015

In 1972, while living in Boston, I learned how to sail at Community Boating, the grandfather of "sailing for all" non-profits. For a flat and very modest fee (even today, only $250 for the whole year) you can come and sail all you want in 13' sailboats (and sometimes even larger ones). And many, many experienced sailors are eager to go out with you and help you improve your sailing skills. Alameda Community Sailing's vision seems similar and I wish them the best of luck in achieving their goals.